Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called for a more co-ordinated response to coronavirus between the British and Irish governments and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Speaking after a virtual meeting of the British-Irish Council on Friday, the Taoiseach said the governments should try to agree on the right level of medium-term restrictions in response to the pandemic.
“It would be very useful if the secretariat of the British-Irish Council could pull together the varying responses and approaches of the various administrations to Covid to date, do a bit more work on analytics and research so that we share best practice across each administration,” he said.
“I raised the point that we do need at some stage to identify the correct level of restrictions over a medium-term period that would be consistent with protecting lives and livelihoods and keeping key sectors of the economy going. And I think all of us share the challenge of the impact of Covid on the economy and jobs and on livelihoods.”
Mr Martin said he would continue to consult with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill about co-ordinated action across the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland's lockdown, which was introduced on October 16th, is due to end on November 13th, more than two weeks ahead of those in England and Ireland, and Ms Foster declined to say if it would be extended.
"We will be taking a balanced and proportionate view when the Executive next comes together as to how we deal with all of these matters, and I think we owe that to the people of Northern Ireland and the recognition that there have been huge restrictions on people's lives. For understandable reasons, absolutely. But we have to move through this in a way where we bring everybody with us and we protect the National Health Service," she said.
Established under the Belfast Agreement in 1998, the British-Irish Council brings together the British and Irish governments alongside the administrations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Friday's meeting, hosted by Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon, was dominated by coronavirus, but the leaders also discussed Brexit and the ongoing negotiations between Britain and the EU.
The Taoiseach said Ireland’s focus was on achieving a deal and overcoming the two sides’ disagreements on fisheries, governance and level-playing-field guarantees of fair competition.
“My consistent view, both publicly and in every forum that I address, is that all of us have a collective responsibility to the people that we represent to facilitate the emergence of an agreement so as to avoid a second seismic shock to the economy over and above what Covid has already impacted. So I think we must avoid no deal, knowing what that would mean for our respective economies, because there simply will be no winners.”